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The Extra Pass: Talking Blazers, Clippers, coaching with Bill and Luke Walton

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Portland Trail Blazers fans are not fair weathered. They have stuck with the franchise through some dark times. Now they are being rewarded — with LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard leading the way, Portland fans are getting to witness some of the best, most entertaining basketball Rip City has seen in more than a decade.

Consider Trail Blazer legend and Hall of Famer Bill Walton one of those happy fans.

The big red head is around the game again, having gotten past the back issues that literally had him on the floor for years, and through it all  his passion for the game never died — and it is still infectious.

As is his love for Portland and his plaid-pants wearing coach Dr. Jack Ramsey, who coached the Trail Blazers to the 1977 NBA title with Walton as the star.

“There’s nothing like pride,” Bill Walton told ProBasketballTalk. “I played my best basketball ever for the Portland Trail Blazers…

“So many memories, all the guys I’m still really close to. Whenever you’re part of something special, you always come back to the relationships, the personalities…

“(Coach Dr.) Jack Ramsey, he made me the best player that I ever was. His ability to take me to destinations and in directions I never even really thought were possible it was incredible. And what he did, his vision for putting the team together, we were incredibly lucky in that we had guys like Maurice Lucas, Lionel Hollins, Johnny Davis, Bob Gross.

“And we had the Blazer maniacs. Oh my gosh did they ever make it fun…”

The elder Walton and his son Luke have teamed up with Teleflora for their NBA “Send & Score” Sweepstakes — send Valentines day flowers and you and earn a chance to win a VIP trip to attend an NBA Playoff game, NBA gear and more.

Bill thinks there could be ample opportunities to attend Clippers playoff games this season — that’s another team he played for, both when they were in San Diego and when they first move to Los Angeles.

“It’s so fantastic,” Bill said of the Clippers run of success. “I’m just so thrilled for Ralph Lawler, Mr. Clipper, the voice of the Clippers. What a great friend, Ralph has taught me so much. It’s just been incredible to see what Blake Griffin and Doc Rivers, and Chris Paul… It’s great to see what’s happening with the Clippers because the fans are so deserving and have been waiting for so long.”

What do the Clippers need to get over the top in a brutal West?

“I think trading for Doc Rivers in the off-season was big because he’s a championship coach,” said Luke, who is now an assistant coach for the D-Fenders of the D-League plus is a studio analyst for the Lakers. “He knows what it takes, he will put the confidence in the players come playoff time. Just with another year of going through the playoffs like they did last year, I think they automatically get better off that. And I think Doc could have been that missing piece to take them over the top.”

“It’s all about culture,” Bill added. “There’s never been a great player, a great team, a great organization without a great leader. Doc Rivers has proven to be that championship leader to get the guys to sacrifice for the team, because you’re never going to get it done on the big scale. If you want to score and you want to be the champion and if you want to make it all happen, you have to get guys willing to sacrifice.”

Both of the Waltons played for some of the greatest coaches the game has ever seen — Bill played for six Hall of Fame coaches from John Wooden at UCLA through Ramsey and others, while Luke was with Lute Olsen at Arizona and Phil Jackson in the NBA.

Those experiences mean both think coaching is key to really winning in the NBA.

“I think it’s huge,” Luke said. “The NBA is full of the best players in the world, so what coach can get those guys to play hard, to play together, to play for each other, that’s what really makes a good coach a great coach. And I think Doc Rivers is one of those guys.”

“It’s all about the love that from a somebody who can make guys believe there is a bigger picture here,” Bill added.

He’s not a coach, but Bill’s cup is still overflowing with the love of the game. It’s just great to have him back around the game, talking hoops. And Portland.

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Pacers 89, Hawks 85: The first half of this was tight, but a lot of the Hawks’ success was fueled by the 14 Pacers turnovers before the break. After the break the Pacers locked down the Hawks — Atlanta shot 30 percent in the third — plus Indy the pace took care of the ball (five second half turnovers), and with that pulled away. David West had nine of this 22 in the third, and Paul George added 18. Mike Scott had 11 of his team-high 15 in the fourth, but it wasn’t near enough. By the way, Lance Stephenson took a nasty third quarter fall and did not return, however it does not appear to be serious. Which is good news.

Timberwolves 109, Lakers 99: So the return of Steve Nash to the lineup did not help the Lakers’ defense. Who knew? This is 15 consecutive games the Lakers have given up 100 or more and Minnesota put their foot on the gas early with 38 points in the first quarter, led by 14 from Kevin Martin (who had 31 for the game). Minny led by 25 in the second quarter and while a couple times in the fourth the Lakers got it to single digits this was never in doubt. Kevin Love had 31 points and 17 rebounds, Ricky Rubio dished out 17 assists. It was good to see Nash back on the court and he dished out nine assists plus hit three of six shots in 24 minutes. Steve Blake returned also and played 32 minutes, had zero points and ruptured an eardrum (but will continue traveling with the team).

Bulls 101, Suns 92: Chicago was able to do what Indiana wasn’t — grind down to the Suns and put their offense in quicksand. At least for a half, but it was enough. The Bulls played good transition defense, they guarded the arc well (the Suns were just 8-of-28 from three) and they scored efficiently enough to remove a lot of running opportunities for Phoenix. The Bulls did a lot of that damage in the first half, but when the Suns came out on a 13-4 run early in the second it felt like they could sprint past Chicago. They didn’t thanks to strong quarters from Carlos Boozer and Mike Dunleavy, then D.J Augustin had 9 points off the bench in the fourth quarter as the Bulls answered every Suns run. Goran Dragic had 24 points to lead the Suns.

Bobcats 91, Warriors 75: Golden State’s offense hasn’t been as good as you’d expect this season and of late it’s been a mess — in their last five games the Warriors are shooting below 40 percent as a team. That reached a new low against a strong Bobcats defense Tuesday, with Golden State scoring just 75 points on 32 percent shooting. Stephen Curry was 1-of-7 from three, David Lee 3-of-13 overall. Al Jefferson was a beast inside with 30 points on the night to lead Charlotte.

Dave Joerger: Kings will play more small ball

Sacramento Kings head coach Dave Joerger talks to reporters during the Kings basketball media day Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, in Sacramento, Calif. Joerger, who was fired by the Memphis Grizzlies at the end of last season, was hired by Kings to replace George Karl, who was fired by the Kings.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
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Shortly after the Kings chose center Georgios Papagiannis with the No. 13 pick in the draft, DeMarcus Cousins tweeted, “Lord give me the strength.” Sacramento already had an abundance of centers with Cousins, Willie Cauley-Stein and Kosta Koufos. If Cousins wasn’t talking about yoga, Sacramento adding center Skal Labissiere with the No. 28 pick would’ve driven Cousins batty.

At least Kings coach Dave Joerger is accustomed to using two bigs, as he did with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph in Memphis.

Joerger, via Cowbell Kingdom:

I anticipate us playing a lot more small ball this year.

I’m not playing big.

Oh.

This is going to lead to some unhappy campers in Sacramento. It won’t be Cousins (not for getting his role reduced, at least). But this will make it hard for Cauley-Stein and Koufos to get satisfactory playing time. It’ll also make it harder for Papagiannis and Labissiere to get minutes to develop.

Like with most things, winning is the best way to quash griping. The Kings have enough wings – Rudy Gay, Matt Barnes, Arron Afflalo, Omri Casspi, Ben McLemore, Garrett Temple and Malachi Richardson – to theoretically play small effectively. If Joerger goes that route, he better find success with it. Otherwise, he could get plenty of heat – including from general manager Vlade Divac, who spoke incredibly highly of his first-round picks, the players most likely to get squeezed out of a small-ball rotation.

Dwane Casey: Jared Sullinger has Raptors’ starting PF job to lose

BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 05: Jared Sullinger #7 of the Boston Celtics drives to the basket against Patrick Patterson #54 of the Toronto Raptors in the first half at TD Garden on November 5, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
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Last year, Patrick Patterson declared the Raptors’ starting power-forward job his to lose.

Well, he lost it.

Luis Scola started most of the regular season before Toronto tinkered in the playoffs. Patterson claimed the job. Then, the Raptors turned to DeMarre Carroll with Norman Powel in a small-ball lineup. Finally, Toronto reverted back to Scola.

A year later, there’s still no clear, great option at the position. Scola went to the Nets. Patterson returns. Pascal Siakam and Jarrod Uthoff are rookies. First man up: Newly signed Jared Sullinger.

Raptors coach Dwane Casey, via Doug Smith of the Toronto Star:

“I would say Sullinger is the guy now that it would be his to lose, but I reserve the right to change my mind,” Casey said, citing the need to see how that group reacts defensively.

If Sullinger’s bar is defensive, he’ll have a tough time clearing it. He neither protects the rim nor moves well on the perimeter – making him similar to Scola. But Scola got the job last year with similar contributions.

Sullinger rebounds well, and he has some shooting range, though he hasn’t been selective enough with it.

Patterson’s ability to defend the pick-and-roll might make him a better fit next to Jonas Valanciunas, especially if Patterson has confidence in his 3-point shot.

There should be a place for Sullinger in the rotation, but if he’s starting at power forward, that speaks to a lack of quality options.

Report: Cavaliers giving championship rings to 1,000+ workers

CLEVELAND, OH -  JUNE 20: The Cleveland Cavaliers mascot Moon Dog cheers on the fans prior to the arrival of the Cavs players return to Cleveland after wining the NBA Championships on June 20, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The Cavaliers will reportedly give David Blatt a championship ring, and Anderson Varejao also has one available.

They aren’t the only two unexpected ring recipients.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

Majority owner Dan Gilbert and his partners decided to present rings to more than 1,000 full and part-time employees throughout the Cavaliers and Quicken Loans Arena organization, employees who’ve been fitted for rings told cleveland.com.

A conservative cost for distributing rings to employees is more than $1 million.

This is very cool by Gilbert. Obviously, lower-level team employees won’t receive the same blinged-out rings the players get. But this is a nice way to reward their hard work.

Not to go all Jerry Krause, but organizations win championships. Some pieces – LeBron James – matter much more than others, but everyone plays a part. Security guards keep players safe, preventing a dreadful incident that could derail a playoff run. Public-relations staffers ease the burden on players. Ushers improve the fan experience, which increases revenue and helps Gilbert afford a massive luxury-tax bill.

It all adds up, as Gilbert clearly recognizes.

Mike D’Antoni: Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony rejected my system, but new (old) approach with James Harden

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 20:  Head coach Mike D'Antoni of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrates with Kkobe Bryant #24 and Pau Gasol #16 after the game against the Brooklyn Nets at Staples Center on November 20, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. The Lakers won 95-90.   NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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I can’t understate how revolutionary Mike D’Antoni’s offense looked with the Suns. In his first full season, 2004-05, they scored 110.4 points per game – the most anyone had scored in a decade. And it wasn’t even close. Phoenix played fast and scored efficiently.

That offense eventually got D’Antoni jobs in the NBA’s biggest markets and with two of the league’s best scorers, Carmelo Anthony (Knicks) and Kobe Bryant (Lakers).

Ian Thomsen of NBA.com:

But his coaching relationships with Anthony and Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles did not turn out so well. The last two stars essentially rejected his system.

“They did,” acknowledged D’Antoni. “And they were paid 20-something million dollars for it — they were successful. So I don’t blame them. Nothing’s been proven up to that point.”

The Warriors had yet to show that D’Antoni’s offense could thrive in late May and June.

“They’re thinking, like, he’s crazy,” D’Antoni said of Anthony and Bryant. “So I don’t blame them at all. This is a much better situation.”

With the Knicks and Lakers, D’Antoni edged back from his own offensive principles in part because he wasn’t sure, either. He was in a lonely place as the proponent of a style that was rejected by NBA fundamentalists. In New York and L.A., D’Antoni lacked the proof that would be provided years later by the Warriors of Kerr, who when serving as GM of the Suns had himself objected to D’Antoni’s point of view. The inventor didn’t believe fully in his own invention.

“I wasn’t that confident,” D’Antoni insisted. “It was a little bit before analytics. Everybody was telling us that we couldn’t do it, no one was telling us we could. Analytics came in and said, hey, you can do this — this is good, actually. So now you’ve got (GM) Daryl Morey with the Rockets and how they play and different teams trying to do it, and now it’s kind of caught on.

This bucks the narrative that D’Antoni’s offense can’t work with a score-first star. If D’Antoni compromised his scheme for Kobe and Melo, we haven’t yet seen it full bore with a player like that.

We will this season in Houston, where D’Antoni has turned score-first James Harden into the Rockets’ point guard.

As D’Antoni said, it’ll be easier to sell his scheme now that it has been proven to work. But as other teams adopt elements of it, he’ll have less of a strategic advantage.

The best coaches have revolutionary ideas AND get their players to buy into them. D’Antoni’s methods are no longer as cutting-edge, but he’ll have an easier time selling his players. That’s a justifiable knock on D’Antoni’s overall coaching prowess, but he still brings positives.

We’ve seen D’Antoni’s system at full throttle, and we’ve seen him coach generational scorers. To get both simultaneously will be a fun experiment in Houston this year.